The title of this post comes from Lesson 9 of the Sabbath School lesson quarterly for the 4th Quarter 2007, written by Gavin Anthony, but also ably expounded upon by David Asscherick in the audio commentary he recorded for Pan De Vida Productions.
These days, there are times when it seems to be more ‘correct’ to speak of having a ‘praise-and-worship-session’ instead of a ‘gospel concert.’ We also have the phenomenon of so-called ‘praise teams’ or, alternatively, ‘worship teams.’ I want to take a closer look at this whole notion.
Theologian James White, in the book Introduction to Christian Worship (3rd ed) writes:
“A widely used term in recent years is the word celebration (sic). It is frequently used in secular contexts and seems to have developed a vagueness that makes it rather meaningless unless used with a specific object so that one knows what is being celebrated… Since the whole community celebrates worship, the leader should be referred to as presider (sic) not as celebrant” (p. 30).
That last sentence made me think. Indeed, at this time the word ‘celebration’ is used right across the Christian world to describe various liturgical activities, from high-church Eucharist to ‘charismatic’ evangelical services. However, Seventh-Day Adventists have often tended to avoid such a word vis-a-vis corporate worship. Nonetheless, this whole notion of every worshipping member of a given congregation being a ‘celebrant’ as opposed to just the person leading out has interesting ramifications for the conspicuous use of the phrase ‘praise and worship’ in liturgy.
How is it coherent to speak of a ‘praise team’ or a ‘worship team’ when both activities are not and cannot be the exclusive provenance of a group? Why have so many church communities become so accepting of a rubric that has opened up multiple Pandora’s boxes of contention? On one hand, we have the idea that while everyone is supposed to be part of the ‘worship,’ some people are better qualified to lead worship than others. That could in fact be the truth, but who arbits these things? And what criteria do they use?
On another hand, it could also be said that a ‘worship team’ is there to worship God on behalf of the congregation – so if a given church member – or even a visitor to the church – is not personally connected with God, if they place themselves somewhere where other people ARE in fact connected to God, then maybe it will rub off on them…
For this reason, I personally have preferred to say ‘praise team’ but I’m not wonderfully happy with that either. For my money, it was easier when we just had a ‘choir’ or some kind of ‘group.’ Simple nouns. The whole notion behind ‘praise teams’ is well-intentioned, but as we have seen, the term creates more problems than would be ideal.
We read in Psalm 51:17, 18 these words: “For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (KJV).
Hope that’s clear, even if you read a different version. The liturgy matters – the form and order of service and quality of music and sermon preparation all matter. But nothing matters more than being in a place of total humility before God. A lot of the time our praise teams are spiritually in contempt. Why are they tolerated? Because they usually reflect the worshipping communities that permit them to continue in existence without growing spiritually. And here is the thing – you can’t grow musically beyond a certain point unless you grow spiritually! Feel free to contest that if you disagree, but I absolutely stand by that and will be very happy to explain why some other time.
If our praise teams modelled a life of praise in their everyday lives, they would be a powerful force for good.
Some are trying to do just that. God bless them.
Others have a long way to go.
But in the end, forget the praise teams. Can each believer be a ‘praiser’ and a ‘worshipper?’ What does that look like in real life? How do you praise when there’s no music? How do you worship when you’re not in church?
More thoughts will follow on all these points at some point in the future! But meanwhile, may God be with each one of you, and thanks again for stopping by.